Recent Comments

Water is Life
Aimee Loiselle

Excellent post about the risks and results of celebrity voices in protests. The celebrity exists as a spectacle (as a persona separate from their basic existence) and makes the protest an extension of that spectacle. Even with the best of intentions and their own rights to civic activities, celebrities shifted the focus of the DAPL actions. I imagine those actions as a range of efforts: treaty debates, regional political negotiations, court cases, letters and phonecalls as well as the public demonstrations and physical resistance at the site. But the celebrities only highlight the public demonstrations, intensifying the obsession with such efforts and further marginalizing the other forms of resistance in the legal, political, financial, and legislative arenas. It seems like a convergence of spectacle: the celebrity and the public demonstration.

Kris Coffield

You deftly highlight the normative paradox of today’s spectacular society. On the one hand, the spectacle propounds consumerism and alienation. On the other, today’s spectacular iterations, particularly via social media, can coalesce new forms of politics that resist cultural homogenization and contest normativity. These political expressions, too, can be coopted to promote a brand and, in turn, are routinely critiqued for that cooptation on mediatic platforms. It’s a cycle that mirrors the broader systems of (attempted) interpellation within which society is imbricated. All the same, if we expand our notion of “the spectacle” beyond the corporaization and desensitivity, I wonder if we can explore ways in which the spectacle has been appropriated to produce material change. As you indicate, videos of police brutality circulating on social media, for example, have given rise to new movements and new voice to people who’ve long been silenced. How can we acknowledge dissent spurred by the spectacle, while also problematizing corporate control?

Aimee Loiselle

I really appreciate your examples of “repurposing” protest images. The uses of such images in the Pepsi commercial (and others) and music videos are particularly powerful to me. The protest images become spectacle in the media and their recycling of quick shots, and then the images become a commercialized spectacle in service to selling a brand (more than selling a product). The brand becomes associated with abstract notions of rebellion, defiance, or anger based on images decontextualized from the conditions and analysis that prompted the protest. The “Stellar Tombs” video did a good job of building the images into a coherent message about nuclear weapons, nuclear annihilation, and protests against them—but I still noted that at the end of the video, the singer walks alone in the space. Ultimately, the spectacles of protest served that persona/brand. Rage Against the Machine also makes a creative effort to tie the spectacle of protests it uses in videos to the lyrics which contain more systemic analysis. The post also made me think of “Forest Gump,” and its use of spectacles of protest which are not so much decontextualized as simplified to serve the personal love story.

Sharon Lauricella

Kevin, this commentary on prestige tv and availability is most relevant given the release of THT. I have to sheepishly admit (may the media gods forgive me) that living in Canada, I watched the series immediately after release. I was able to do that because… I streamed it on an Android device (at least I didn’t download it!). So, the idea of moonshine-style tv is another issue altogether. In an era of prohibition-tv in which people have to pay for cable, Netflix, Hulu, AppleTV, etc., and make decisions about where (or where not) to spend their money, there are still ways around it. I feel savvy having found THT, though Lord knows my students know far more than I do about getting around fees.

There are also other, more positive, purposes for sharing media. For example, documentaries like The 13th arguably ought to be free given the nature of their social justice agenda. Could there be a model for this? With an increasingly right-leaning government in the US, is it possible that the wealthy will be the ones to both control and access media? Could our access to statement media such as THT be restricted (ironically, the purpose of the series itself)?

Thanks for a thoughtful piece which provokes consideration of ethics, finances, and media accessibility.

Kevin McDonald

Thank you, Debbie, for your comment; it really helps to spell out some of the issues that I’ve been trying to think more about. First, I would agree that prestige as a kind of genre is becoming more important across television, but that it also functions differently across different types of ‘channels’. I’m not sure channel is the best description here, but there are important distinctions between pay channels (HBO and Showtime), cable networks (AMC or FX), streaming services (Hulu, Amazon, Netflix), and traditional broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). Whereas broadcast networks still need prestige to prop up ad sales, pay channels and streaming services rely on this programming as a way to attract and then maintain their subscriber base. One of the interesting things is that even though streaming services supposedly operate outside of the traditional forms of audience measurement, there is inevitably a need for metrics that can indicate the success of prestige programming. Social media sites serve in this capacity to some extent (providing ways to measure audience interest and engagement), but this is also where content and promotion begins to blur, possibly to the point where promotional campaigns become more of a distraction or even a disservice that undermines the ability of certain shows to resonate with audiences. Over promotion can create impossible expectations leading to the appearance of failure which may be much more of a detriment to fledgling streaming services and cable networks than to the major networks. TV seems to still be a hit-driven industry and it is interesting to see how quickly the newer platforms assimilated to this with only slight modifications.

As to your question regarding the possibility of non-prestige TV, I think the answer is yes but that this possibility is constrained by how the industry remains beholden to a relatively staid business model. The whole promise of new streaming services was that they were going to democratize the production process. I guess there have been some signs of this and, at the end of the day, there are more “choices.” However, I don’t see YouTube Red as a factor. It seems like Google has been trying to monetize YouTube for a long time with little success—and I don’t think that “low brow” options will get people to start paying for what they expect for free. In fact, the other streaming channels have had to follow the HBO model and offer something better than TV to get audiences to pay for their services. With that said, Netflix may be the most likely to offer more low- to middle-brow options. Mainly by virtue of its larger overall budget, it seems to be in the best position to take more chances with and continue expanding its original programming, even if it’s all destined to lie fallow in the furthest recesses of its catalog.

Deborah James

Kevin, you hit upon an important aspect of THT and its like, which reminds me of an emerging production-based ‘genre’ called ‘prestige TV.’ The gatekeepers, it would seem, are establishing a category of quality television and telling us how to measure, ‘good’ TV. Thoughtful. That aside, I appreciate you introducing the practice of extra-screen promotion, such as planned for SXSW, the LA Book Show/Fair, and pushing Atwood as prophet to the forefront with ‘appearances’ on millenial-targeted social media (live chat on Reddit), as well as maintaining her natural audience at NYTimes, Vanity Fair, etc.

I would argue that this may present something of a model of what is to come in the sVOD battle to gain attention in the prestige TV category.

And, from this perspective, might there emerge ‘low-brow’ TV out of someplace like YouTube Red? Or, are we stuck with evermore slick and over-produced TV? You have given me matters to ponder.

Love is forbidden here
Kristin Comeforo

**Spoiler Alert!! I didn’t watch the episodes and am just going on what I know from the book!!**

Solidarity is always what seems to break the back of resistance groups - whether “the left” generally, feminists or others more specifically. Neoliberalism certainly prefers individuals looking out for themselves and conflating individual success and power with success and power for broader groups.

In reading the book, and the comments here that have prompted me to think about resistance, I remember individuals acts like stealing the butter to use a face cream/body lotion; or, the somewhat group acts of the women at the “club”using their sexual empowerment to help themselves while also protecting one another. Even women’s resistance is framed through the body. Women are reduced to just “sexual vessels,” as Gail Dines asserts in her recent work comparing THT with Netflix’s “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On.” Her conclusion, women’s true role is to be fucked. And while solidarity among women is definitely needed, the product of that solidarity must be to create a new language and way of seeing and reproducing the world around us. To paraphrase clunkily from Laura Mulvey - it is impossible to fight the unconscious structured like a language, from within the language of the patriarchy.

Handmaid's bonnet
Joshua Miller

I agree that it is detrimental that this was released in such a heavily (and proud) patriarchal time. A little uncanny how it can be interpreted so well with America’s current political climate. But again, I have not been that in depth of women rights until of late. As well as the article that compared THT to female runned porn made me wonder if there are any shows (particularly 2010-2017) out there that do not use the female characters solely for the use of sexualization and are they as powerful than THT?

I was also wondering for both of your inputs on the timeline of the show. In the flashback it could be deciphered it is in the present times. But just like that in the future dystopia, Offered/June remains ageless? Do you think it is trying to show how quickly things can change when people are desperate or am I reading too much into it?

Sorry if my answers are everywhere!

Love is forbidden here
Deborah James

In reading your post, Sharon, what has occurred to me is how Moss’ statement - presenting the idea that this is a human vs feminist story - has presented us with an opportunity to debate this issue. Atwood shows us the way, to some degree, by contradicting this premise in a public forum. Perhaps, we might consider these ‘cracks’ in the wall between celebrity/mass media/PR and an engaged viewing public, at this particular time in history, as opportunities or guides for meaningful discussion. To argue THT as a feminist text, demands we look deeper and beyond the screen for a more inclusive and nuanced meaning. And, discuss we must if we are to reveal women’s actual lived experience, and refute comments in main stream media such as Ivanka’s assertion of ‘work,’ as representing a dominant reality.

To that end, I wonder if your post highlights something of a watershed moment in the evolution of social discourse on the meaning of popular culture texts. Does THT represent a media event where we the ‘audience’ share (albeit, not equally) in determining meaning? We need more complicated and compelling texts, such as THT, to debate. And, a free and open Internet.

This discussion has encouraged me to think differently about a related research problem.

Love is forbidden here
Sharon Lauricella

Thank you, Sarah, for this thoughtful comment which addresses a very important issue in the struggle to address sexism. The “system” - whether it is in THT or in the current political climate - perpetuates hegemonic thinking and does not easily make room for solidarity. The caste hierarchy in THT (wives, Marthas, Handmaids, castoffs to the colonies) inherently pits women against women as a means of survival. At present, Ivanka uses her own privilege to write about “work” (and made the unfortunate mistake of equating herself to a slave — who are her editors?!). Looking forward, intersectionality is a key element in constructing meaningful and helpful thinking and talking about oppression and shared struggle.